Lost in Translation has analyzed the two American-made Godzilla movies, both the 1998 version and the 2014. The history of Godzilla and Gojira are expanded in those, but the short version is that title kaiju began as a message about the horrors of the atomic age, espeically the atomic bomb. As the franchise progressed, Godzilla became the defender of the Earth, though not necessarily of humanity has he rampages through Tokyo leaving massive collateral damage in his wake. The 2014 Hollywood version changed the message, from the dangers of the atomic era to the dangers of climate change.
However, the 1998 and 2014 versions were not the first American adaptations. Prior to them, the animation studio Hanna-Barbera licensed the character in 1978 from Toho to create the Godzilla cartoon. What better way to entertain young children on a Saturday morning than watching a giant monster rampaging through the cities of the world? Considering that local stations, particularly in the UHF band, had more control over their time slots than today and had more hours to fill with local programming, both weekend afternoons and late-night and overnight hours, the very same young children watching the Godzilla cartoon would be able to watch an older Godzilla movie later the same weekend.
The series followed the crew of the Calico, a research vessel travelling the world’s oceans. While Captain Carl Majors was in charge of the ship, Dr. Quinn Darien was the head of the unspecified research project. Quinn had two members of her team, Brock, her research assistant, and Pete Darien, her nephew. Rounding out the team is Godzooky, Godzilla’s young nephew. When the crew of the Calico is in a tight spot, they summon Godzilla himself.
A typical episode would have the Calico in a location by the ocean making a new discovery, usually related to the giant monster of the week. The crew investigates, with Pete and Godzooky often told to remain behind because of the danger. If they were told, eventually they disobey and follow. The giant monster is found and Godzilla is summoned. The first fight between titans is a draw as the newcomer’s abilities either force Godzilla to back down or allows it to run away. The team tracks the giant monster and summons Godzilla one more time for the final fight. The draw of the show, though, is the battle between giant monsters, and the cartoon does deliver.
While the crew of the Calico was created for the cartoon, Godzooky is based on an existing character in the Godzilla mythos – Minilla. First appearing in Son of Godzilla, Minilla, known as Minya in some dubs, is the son of Godzilla. Both Minilla and Godzooky share some traits, including blowing smoke rings instead of fire and being young giant monsters. Godzooky was in the cartoon to appeal to the kids; he is very much a lovable pet who gets into trouble but is too cute to be angry with for too long. He is also very much child-like in that he wants to help even if he isn’t able to be effective.
The animation of the rest of the cast is along the lines of Hanna-Barbera’s own Jonny Quest. Techniques developed with the various Scooby-Doo series can be seen, particularly as the crew runs as a group. Godzilla is very much in line with his cinematic appearances. However, one of the draws of the movies, the casual destruction of cities as Godzilla stomps through, was reduced or completely removed, thanks to Broadcast Standards and Practices.. BS&P had strict guidelines on what could and could not be shown, and things like breathing fire on people and crushing buildings and cars underfoot were against the guidelines. As a result, Godzilla tended to use laser beams from his eyes more this is atomic breath, which was turned into a flame breath.
While Toho licensed the character, they didn’t license Godzilla’s roar. The studio worked around that limitation by hiring Ted Cassidy, best known as Lurch on The Addams Family and Ruk on the Star Trek episode, “What Little Girls Are Made Of”, to give voice to Godzilla. Cassidy’s work, combined with the animation of the title character, gave weight to the monster, keeping the fierceness associated with Godzilla.
Given that the cartoon was meant for a younger Saturday morning audience, Hanna-Barbera succeeded in what they set out to do. Godzilla lasted two season, and ran until 1981 on NBC. While not the best adaptation it could have been, the studio’s limitations, imposed from within by format and target audience and from outside by Broadcast Standards and Practices, meant that the production was going to hit diminishing returns. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but the Godzilla cartoon did remember the key elements to the kaiju‘s fame.
The original Star Trek recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of the air date of its first episode, “The Man Trap”. Since then, the series has had a number of adaptations, including feature films, continuation TV series, games, comics, books, and even a cartoon. However, when the last first-run episode, “Turnabout Intruder” aired, fans had to resign themselves to watching the series in syndication, despite the efforts put into letter writing campaigns.
The dearth of new Star Trek episodes came to an end in 1973, when Gene Roddenberry worked with Filmation to create an animated series. Now known as Star Trek: The Animated Series, to distinguish it from other Trek entries, the cartoon brought back the crew of the USS Enterprise for two more seasons, this time on Saturday mornings. Filmation is best known for series such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, its spin-off series She-Ra: Princess of Power, and Ghostbusters*, and animation techniques that were budget friendly, including long establishing shots and animation reuse. During the series’ two seasons, twenty-two episodes aired.
Budget-friendly animation helped ST:TAS, allowing the series to bring back most of the cast to reprise their roles for the cartoon. With the reuse of animation, artists could ensure that the characters looked like their actors. Also because of animation, aliens were no longer limited to looking like humans in rubber masks. Two new crewmembers were introduced, Lieutenant M’ress, a cat-like communications officer, and Lieutenant Arex, a tripedal navigation officer. Both additions allowed Star Fleet and the Federation to feel larger and inclusive. Thanks to being animated, alien worlds could look alien with no more effort it took to paint a corridor of the Enterprise.
ST:TAS brought in science-fiction writers as much as the original series did. Larry Niven wrote “The Slaver Weapon”, bringing in his Kzinti from his short story, “The Soft Weapon”. David Gerrold, who wrote the original series episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles”, revisited the furry ecological menaces with “More Troubles, More Tribbles”. DC Fontana, who both wrote and was a story editor for the original series, contributed “Yesteryear”, a look at Spock as a young boy. The limitations of the format, a 22-minute long cartoon, was worked around and, in many cases, used to great effect.
For a while, the animated series was considered non-canonical, except for the cases where it was. Kirk’s middle name, Tiberius, was given to him by Gerrold in “More Trouble, More Tribbles”, and stuck. Fontana’s “Yesteryear” provided such a rich look at both Spock’s early life and Vulcan culture that it was more-or-less accepted as is. “Yesteryear” is part of Spock’s story arc, as he evolves from having his Human and Vulcan sides at odds to him accepting that he is part of both worlds, as seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home. Canonicity has returned in bits and pieces, with ST:TAS being mined for background for different characters.
The series continued to delve into social issues and showcased characters that didn’t get spotlight time in the original series. Of note, “The Lorelei Signal”, by Margaret Armen, placed Uhura in command of the Enterprise after the male crewmembers fell under the effect of space sirens. Beings that appeared to be dangerous turned out to be misunderstood. The dangers of introducing an invasive species were explored. The show worked to keep to the spirit of the original series. While there were episodes that fell flat, the same happened with the original series. However, the animated series took what it had and expanded the Trek universe, entertaining fans who were starved for new episodes without disappointing them.
Star Trek: The Animated Series transcended the Saturday morning cartoon format, bringing back the crew of the Enterprise to boldly go, once again, where no man has gone before.
* Not to be confused with The Real Ghostbusters, the animated adaptation of the Ghostbusters movie.
It’s a new year, it’s a new review. To ease back into reviewing, let’s look at somewhat lighter fare.
In 1984, the idea of a pre-packaged campaign world for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was still new. TSR had a house settings, The World of Greyhawk, based on Gary Gygax’s home campaign. The idea first came from Tracy and Laura Hickman, who wrote two modules for TSR hoping to be paid for them after Tracy lost his job; instead, he was hired. He worked with several people at the company, including Margaret Weis, decided to create a new setting, one not seen before, one where TSR could tie together a campaign setting, a series of modules, and a tie-in novel trilogy. The result was Dragonlance.
To make Krynn, the world where the Dragonlance campaign would be set, different, the creators removed all divine magic from the world’s recent history. The result of the removal would mean that classes that depended on powers granted by deities – clerics, paladins, and druids – would be severely hampered at the start. The first modules, the name for published adventures, focused on the return of the gods of Krynn and set up the epic battle between Good and Evil. The modules’ events were mirrored by the first Dragonlance trilogy, written by Weis and Hickman.
The novels and the modules were based on the playtest campaign, where TSR staffers took the roles of the main characters – Tanis Half-Elven, Caramon and Raistlin Majere, Goldmoon, Flint, Tasslehoff, Tika, Laurana – and the results noted. Some changes occurred. Tasslehoff, one of the halfling-like race of kender, had managed to pick up a ring of invisibility; the writers realized that the combination would get a little to close to a certain hobbit for Legal’s comfort. The first novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, hit the New York Times bestseller list.* The novel did two things; it let players, including the Dungeon Master, get a feel for both the world and the plotlinem; and, it served as an introduction to AD&D to people who had never played but were curious.
A lot of the success of Dragonlance came from the characters. All of them were flawed in some way, and not all of them were good.** There was friction within the group, characters made poor decisions that came from their motives and goals, yet the fellowship could still come together to thwart evil. The setting expanded, in game material, in novels and short stories, in video games, and in comics. When D&D went to its third edition with new owner Wizards of the Coast, Margaret Weis Productions licensed and released a compatible version of Krynn.
In 2008, Paramount licensed the rights to make an animated Dragonlance feature from WotC. The movie, based on Dragons of Autumn Twilight, was to be the first of a trilogy based on the original Chronicles. With Kiefer Sutherland as Raistlin and Lucy Lawless as Goldmoon, the production team went for star power to draw in viewers while filling the rest of the cast with experienced voice actors***. The animation team made sure that the characters resembled their likenesses from the Larry Elmore covers. However, the movie had some issues. The animation, a mix of 2D and 3D techniques, clashed. The main characters were 2D, but had to fight such three-dimensional monsters as draconians and dragons. The 2D animation also became choppy in parts, jumping without a in-between work. The differences were jarring. The visuals for several spells also didn’t match the what the original descriptions in the Player’s Handbook. In particular, Fireball doesn’t smash into targets; it explodes instead. The Fireball spell as cast by Fizban resembled the lower level spell, Flaming Sphere.
Another problem was the running time; ninety minutes was just not long enough to cover Dragons of Autumn Twilight properly. The novel spent time with world-building, setting up the intricate balance between the different races and nations, introducing the elements that made Krynn a different campaign setting. One character’s death was moved to a different part of the story after the passage through Mount Nevermind, the home of the tinker gnomes, was removed entirely. The death becomes far more dramatic, though. Insufficient running time is an ongoing problem for novels depicting epics. Books can pack in a lot of information in their pages; it takes skill to be able to figure out what can and cannot be removed, and is much easier when there is no Book 2, 3, or, in the case of A Game of Thrones, 7. Blade Runner and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World both managed to extract the core story from the original works. Unfortunately, Dragons of Autumn Twilight became shallower with the removal of material.
A third issue came from the rating. Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a swords and sorcery tale. Swords and axes mean bloody corpses, and blunt weapons like maces and staves aren’t much better. The movie received a PG-13 rating because of the “fantasy action violence”, and while charred, featureless corpses were allowed, blood was reduced, to the point where swords were clean even after striking goblins. Fortunately, the draconians could be stabbed; on death, the creatures turned to stone. Still, to avoid the R rating, the blood needed to be cleaned up some.
With Dragons of Autumn Twilight not faring well, it appears that the next two books, Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawning will not be adapted, at least as animated features. Cindi Rice, the co-executive producer, estimated that a live-action adaptation of the book would cost around US$75 million. While that is far less than many of the blockbusters that failed in 2013, Dragonlance doesn’t have the namespace among the general public that would get studios to take the risk to finance the adaptation.
The animated Dragons of Autumn Twilight comes out as a “nice try”. Ignoring the animation issues, the running time was the biggest drawback, not giving viewers the time to properly experience the setting or the story.
Next week, the adaptational news round up.
* TSR’s publishing arm did well with fiction and was willing to take risks that other publishers wouldn’t. The Edgar-winning novel, Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, was first published by TSR after McCrumb passed her manuscript along to Margaret Weis.
** Or even Good; Raistlin, in particular, started with a Neutral alignment and shifted to Evil over the course of the novels.
*** This isn’t to say that the leads weren’t inexperienced. Both Sutherland and Lawless had a number of voice acting prior to Dragons of Autumn Twilight, though they weren’t primarily known for such work.
Space opera has long been a staple in science fiction. Sprawling epics, from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars through Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers to Star Trek and Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica, where good and evil are easily determined and the stakes are high. Even if the heroes run into obstacles too much to overcome, they triumph in the end.
The past two decades have seen deconstruction of many forms of entertainment, taking the original works and applying a grim, gritty, realistic or semi-realistic filter and showing the results. The remade Battlestar Galactica is an excellent example of deconstruction. The original Galactica, despite the last survivors of the Colonies being on a ragtag fleet being hunted to extinction, left the viewer with optimism that humanity would survive. The remade Galactica, there was the question of who would finish off the fleet first, the Cylons or the humans.
With desconstruction comes reconstruction, the rebuilding of the tropes associated with the genre. In this case, Bioware’s Mass Effect series of video games. In 2007, Mass Effect introduced video gamers to a galaxy where humanity joins a large number of species already capable of faster than light travel. Planets and locations range from the high tech and political centre Citadel Station to frontier colonies like Eden Prime and hell holes like Omega. Into this, eldritch abominations return from beyond the galaxy, intent on destroying all life as part of a cycle of destruction.
Players took on the role of Commander Shepard, a special forces member of the human Systems Alliance Navy, as he or she* investigated an attack on the human colony of Eden Prime. As the investigation progressed, Shepard picks up an eclectic band of supporting characters, including a rogue Citadel Security officer, a homeless pilgrim, and a naive archaeologist, and learned about the threat to the galaxy being spearheaded by a rogue Citadel Council special operative.
The follow up games, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 continue the investigation and fight against the abominations, even while Council doesn’t believe that there is a danger. Throughout the series, despite the threat, despite the inevitability of the abominations returning and succeeding, the hope exists that Shepard will prevail and unite the galaxy against the threat.
In 2012, Funimation**, in conjuction with T.O. Entertainment*** and Production I.G.**** released the animated feature Mass Effect: Paragon Lost. Part of the goal of the feature was to introduce a new playable character for Mass Effect 3 in case Shepard died during the gameplay of Mass Effect 2 while still succeeding with the mission. Another goal was to introduce the game to new players.
Paragon Lost follows Lieutenant James Vega, a marine in the Systems Alliance Navy, as he and his squad race in to protect Felh Prime from an attack by krogan mercenaries. Vega and his teammates show off the different classes available in the game without calling them out by name. Instead, the movie shows what each class does, and the abilities shown are possible in-game, even by Shepard with the right choice of class. The movie starts shortly after the beginning of Mass Effect 2 after the apparently loss of Commander Shepard, and takes place before the start of the real plot of the game. Through the course of the movie, Vega discovers the abominations and what the race known as the Collectors are doing and works to prevent a tragedy.
As an adaptation of a video game, Paragon Lost needs to be able to tell a good story within the framework of both the plot and the gameplay of the Mass Effect series. As seen with Battleship, getting how a game works into the visuals can be problematic. Working in the Paragon Lost‘s favour is having a common ground with the video game – both are visual. The special moves available to Shepard and his or her team are already shown on screen. Paragon Lost shows the viewer each class and what it can do easily enough, from the flashy to the subtle. The movie also shows the setting, giving a taste of the Mass Effect galaxy despite staying primarily on Fehl Prime.
The other major factor in the Mass Effect games is the effect of player choice. A decision made in the first game will return to haunt the player in the second and third. Movies, with the exception of Clue, tend to have just one ending. Interactive DVDs do exist, but are marketed more as games than movies. Paragon Lost, though, still manages to introduce the idea, giving Vega a critical decision and showing the viewer the ramifications of his choice, in a way that drives home the seriousness not only of the immediate results but the long term war to survive.
Next week, the legacy of early computer animation.
Developers of tabletop board games and role-playing games are known for developing a setting for players to romp around. Dream Pod 9 is no exception. Each of their lines, Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicle, Gear Krieg, and Tribe 8, have detailed settings and history, with the worlds involved detailed, down to politics, food, and fashion. In particular, Heavy Gear had many supplements printed, detailing the various factions on the world of Terra Nova and how the world was preparing itself for the return of the Earth forces that were beaten back once already. The game itself was originally created as both a tabletop war game* and as an RPG, allowing players to command armies or to be one of the pilots in the titular Gears.
With a rich setting, the game was seen as prime fodder for being adapted into a cartoon, much like what happened with the BattleTech game in 1994. However, instead of mixing traditional with CGI as with the BattleTech series, Heavy Gear: The Animated Series was completely computer animated. In 2001, Sony Pictures, along with Mainframe Entertainment, produced the series. The story centered around the Shadow Dragons, a Gear dueling** team from the Southern Republic***, the team’s rookie Gear pilot, and their dealings with the Northern Light Confederacy’s team, the Vanguard of Justice.
The original plan was to showcase the teams in a tournament, then, once a winner was determined, have the Earth forces arrive to retake the planet. However, Sony aimed the show at a younger audience than DP9 aimed the games and wanted to simplify the storyline. Out went the Earth invasion, since the younger target might not wrap their heads around the sudden switch from villain to hero by the Vanguard. The series remained focused on the tournament format for the entire run, even with tourney having been after the first dozen episodes.
The problem with the adaptation is that it was aimed for the wrong crowd. The game was played by an older market; in fact, DP9 had to redo the war game rules because restrictions in lead use, affecting the miniatures line.**** The attention to detail of the minis, the fine motor skills required to both build and paint them, would be slightly beyond Sony’s target audience. On the RPG side, character generation was somewhat involved, requiring a non-linear point expenditure. While the Gear combat did look good and was representative, the plot itself was flatter than expected given DP9’s own work on the setting, with game books having a year printed on the cover to indicate where on their timeline the supplements were. Gone, too, was the idea that all factions on Terra Nova had their good and bad sides. The Northern Vanguard of Justice were the villains, period.
There were a few outstanding moments, though. One of the Southern pilots was a shout-out to Oddball, Donald Sutherland’s character in Kelly’s Heroes. And DP9 didn’t ignore the series’ existence. Instead, the show is mentioned, in-universe, as entertainment for the masses.
Next time, still with science fiction.
* Complete with a line of miniatures for all factions involved.
** There are three types of dueling on Terra Nova: military dueling, done for the honour of a regiment; professional dueling, which focuses on the skill of the pilots and was the type of dueling featured in the cartoon; and underground dueling, where anything goes and it’s a bad day of no gear is utterly destroyed.
*** One of the two superpowers of Terra Nova, the other being the Northern Light Confederacy.
**** All miniatures companies were hit at the same time by new regulations limiting the amount of lead in a product. Companies switched over to pewter, causing some price increases. The 1:87 scale of the original line of /Heavy Gear/ minis was scrapped in favour of a 1:144 scale.